'Aggressive begging' and daytime drinking among key problems highlighted at Durham City antisocial behaviour conference

Police chiefs, council bosses and Durham University have pledged to work together to tackle antisocial behaviour issues in Durham City.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 2:27 pm
The antisocial behaviour conference

In recent months, there have been growing reports of daytime drinking, “aggressive begging” and late night noise in the city centre.

The problem has got so bad that Durham County Council recently appointed two dedicated wardens to focus on Market Place and North Road.

City of Durham Parish Council organised a conference for key partners to thrash out the issue and potential solutions going forward.

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The panel included Nick Rippin, representing Durham City MP Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, Dave Orford, Durham Constabulary’s deputy chief constable, Joanne Waller, head of community protection on Durham County Council, Kate McIntosh, president of Durham Students’ Union and Darryn Hooks from Sanctuary 21, part of the Salvation Army.

Durham University pro-vice chancellor Jeremy Cook OBE and community liaison officer Hannah Shepherd also attended and answered questions from the floor.

Coun Elizabeth Scott, chairwoman of the parish council, told the meeting antisocial behaviour was of “great concern” to residents, businesses and visitors.

While welcoming recent moves including a new police sergeant for the city centre, she said there was no “silver bullet” to tackle the issues the city faces.

“These are not problems that can be solved by one organisation or organisations working alone, this is the purpose of this conference today,” she said.

The meeting heard about efforts to tackle antisocial behaviour including extra neighbourhood wardens, increased support for homeless people at Sanctuary 21 and campaigns urging students to be considerate to their neighbours.

Ms Waller, of Durham County Council, also urged residents to take part in a ongoing consultation on whether there should be a bespoke alcohol licensing policy for Durham City.At the meeting, members of the public criticised the current response to antisocial behaviour, including the lack of visible police on the street, impact on trade and sleepless nights from noisy students.

The meeting heard police had stopped handing out community protection orders to noisy students because it was an “inappropriate” use of the law, described as “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

This included students potentially being left with a criminal record over noise complaints.

In response to calls from residents, police chiefs agreed to trial the tactic of uniformed officers knocking on doors.

Deputy chief constable of Durham Constabulary, Dave Orford, stressed his officers were “custodians” for the city and its heritage.

Despite the force dealing with “austerity levels of funding” the meeting heard Durham Constabulary had maintained dedicated neighbourhood policing teams.

The force has also been given the go-ahead to recruit 200 new officers, but the police chief stressed that it would be several years before they hit the streets.

Issues of “transient” late night noise and drunken behaviour from groups of students also dominated the meeting.

President of Durham Students’ Union, Kate McIntosh, said projects were being developed to promote community cohesion and encourage students to act responsibly.

While Durham University already puts forward funds to employ a police officer to protect students, the meeting heard plans were in place to recruit new student community wardens.

Pro-vice chancellor for Durham University for Colleges and Student Experience, Jeremy Cook OBE, added it was important to build “mutual respect” between students and residents going forward.

All parties at the meeting agreed to be part of a conversation with the parish council to find solutions.

Suggestions included wardens working after 10pm, student volunteers keeping their peers quiet at night and a mobile application to make reporting antisocial behaviour easier.

Coun Elizabeth Scott said the parish council would take the lead on investigating the ideas going forward.